By Stefan Schäfer, Lich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Stefan Schäfer, Lich (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Beltane is an occasion that marks the changing seasons.

Beltane, also known as May Eve and Walpurgis, Beltane is a special day celebrated on the first of May each year in the Celtic calendar. Beltane is regarded as a religious holiday by the Celtic Scots, the Irish, the Manx community and those who practice the Wiccan religion and therefore workers from these sects do not go to work. Beltane has its roots in the pagan religion and marks the second half of the Celtic calendar. Beltane is one of four feasts the Celtics use to mark the changing seasons. This feast signals the beginning of spring, so beauty and nature are appreciated during the celebrations.

According to the mythical belief upon which Beltane is based, there was once a young God in the land. The immature God lived and grew into manhood over time. As with all those possessing masculinity, the youthful God soon matured to find he desired the Goddess of the time. The Goddess took the God as her lover, and together they discovered love, trust, and sensuality. The union between the Lord and Lady then gave rise to life as we see it on earth.

The union between the God and his lady is seen as a symbol of fertility and love among those who celebrate Beltane. The Celtic community is a superstitious one and relies on symbolism, so the day is marked with a lot of it.

One of the major signs of the feast is the lighting of the Belfires in the open fields. Before the communal fire is lit, all household pit out their hearth fires. In the past, the Druids would simply light the fires and make their cattle pass between them or leap over them. Neo-pagans on the other hand first attend a service and follow with a procession to the field where a priest kindles the fire.Community members then dance around the fire to harness the blessing as from the sun. Rowan branches are put over hearth belfires in every household to ward off evil spirits, while devotees cake themselves in the resulting ash for good fortune.

Other symbols used during Beltane are flowers, ribbons and cauldron to represent the Goddess and Maypoles to stand for the young pagan God. Flowers are woven into wreaths and braided into women’s hair to celebrate femininity while rainbow-themed ribbons are tied around the Maypoles to signify the union of males and females. In every village commemorating the union, a girl and boy of tender age are chosen to go round the village collecting donations and wishing goodwill on residents.The girl, known as the May Bride, sings as the two go from one household to the next.

Prayers of fertility and good fortune in one’s love life are said during Beltane. Each house makes a May basket of flowers and gives it to the less fortunate as they ask for blessings. Couples are handfasted, and others wed. Man and woman lie together in open fields to bless their couplings. Young women hoping to marry offer food and milk to the fairies, while others wash their faces with water from holy wells and predawn dew, both of which are said to be effective while looking for mates. There is song and dance, and all overall mood of celebration and optimism when Beltane dawns.

Resources

Follow the Conversation on Twitter